I consider myself a child of the 80s, at least the tail end of the 80s. So Bobcat Goldthwait was always, to me, Zed. He was the loud, high-pitched, borderline psychotic recruit in the Police Academy films. Like those films, his act ran on much too long, and I dismissed Goldthwait once I grew out of my childhood admiration for the terrible …
Author Larry Taylor
Ivan Reitman could easily be described as a “sneaky good” director. With a long and prolific career in comedy filmmaking, there are a number of times a film has come along that I never realized Reitman directed. Such is the case with Draft Day, his upcoming NFL picture that I only discovered Reitman directed by chance. Ivan Reitman’s films aren’t all classics by any means, there are many of his efforts which are mediocre to say the least, but there is no doubt he had his share of comedy classics early in his career. There is a trifecta early in his time as a director, which would make any comedic director envious. Reitman’s career may have grown stagnant in recent years, however, they can never take away what made him a “sneaky” legend.
Some actors are movie stars, able to bank billion dollar films in a single bound. Some are character actors, people we see and immediately recognize, though we cannot quite think of their name. They bring comfort to us in films. And then there are those actors who exist in between the vast chasm of anonymity and international superstardom, actors who so deftly perform in films both large and small. This is where you would find Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most brilliant, diverse actors of this generation, a man who could make us laugh, cry, wince, and who could captivate us in his roles, regardless of the film surrounding him. Hoffman’s mere presence in a picture would elevate the status of the movie for most. Whatever his next role was going to be, you can bet I was anticipating the film. And I wasn’t alone.
You aren’t going to find anything new in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the latest Hollywood reboot attempt of a dormant franchise. We’ve all seen Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy super agent/diplomat, portrayed throughout the years by a total of three different actors, dating all the way back to 1987 when Alec Baldwin brought Ryan to life in The Hunt for Red October. Harrison Ford defined the role in Patriot Games (still the best) and Clear and Present Danger, while Ben Affleck flattened the franchise with the lifeless The Sum of All Fears. Now it is time for actor number four, as Chris Pine steps into the Ryan role with plenty of physical presence and arguably just enough screen aplomb to pull off such a no nonsense hero. Jack Ryan is no revelation of a film, but with one important caveat, this film can be enjoyed on a certain level. That caveat being… it’s January.
What makes directors legendary? There are any number of characteristics applied to our most celebrated filmmakers that make them indelible to our consciousness. First and foremost, of course, is quality. But that is the obvious. Beyond the quality of their films, the best directors throughout the history of cinema have placed their stamp on their work, regardless of genre. Think about Martin Scorsese, and the energy of the editing, or the catholic themes. Robert Altman revolutionized filmmaking with his sound equipment and his tendency to have multiple characters speaking all at once. Stanley Kubrick’s lens was a storyteller in and of itself. All of these directors’ films are instantly recognizable as their own work because they have placed their personal stamp on the screen, and all of them have worked in different genres over the years. Now think about the Coen Brothers, one of the top five greatest filmmakers in American history, and think about their stamp. It is finding a story that could be told straight, and then moving the focus slightly to one side.
We are at the end. Here is the final entry in the Universal Monsters Classics series, for a movie released eleven years after Phantom of the Opera. I have always greatly enjoyed the technical mastery at work in Creature from the Black Lagoon, a film which benefits from being released in 1954, 23 years down the road and that much more advanced when it came to special effects. This and The Invisible Man are the best effects pictures of the series, with The Wolf Man close behind. Creature from the Black Lagoon relies greatly on a realistic look for its complex creature, a gill man who is a mixture of man and sea monster. I also see this film as a sort of transitional film between the classic horror monsters of the 30s and 40s and the science fiction, postwar films that were wildly successful in the 50s. Not that this film deals with extraterrestrials, but the look and feel of the film is brighter, more adventurous and, in a sense, more American than any of the other entries.
Several things stand out about Universal’s 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera when comparing it to the other films in the canon. First off, it is a remake of the classic silent version starring Lon Chaney, both films being adapted from the novel by Gaston Leroux. It is also the only picture in the Universal Classics collection that is in color, in this case a brilliant and vibrant Technicolor. This version of Phantom of the Opera also operates on a level of realism where the other Universal pictures do not. Of course, man cannot transform into beast, there are no vampires or monsters created from mad scientists, but the anger and insanity of a man who has been wronged and subsequently disfigured does exist on some level of the real world. The Phantom is not a supernatural being, but a man seeking vengeance.
If you tell me Ridley Scott is directing a crime drama starring Michael Fassbender, that may be all I need to be sold. If you continue, telling me the film is about the drug trade at the Texas border and stars Javier Bardem as a wild and colorful drug kingpin, I may begin to salivate a little. If you carry on even further and tell me this film is not only directed by Ridley Scott, but written by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy, the same man responsible for transcendent Texas crime novels like No Country for Old Men and Blood Meridian, I would say there is no more of a sure thing in cinema this year. I would place all bets on this very film being one of the best of 2013. But when it’s a sure thing, as it is in sports, there’s always the outside possibility it may wind up being a horrible, abject failure.
There is, for all film fanatics, a list of legendary directors. While some names are synonymous across these lists, many legendary directors would appear on some and be absent on others. My list (as arbitrary as this may all be) would definitely include Ridley Scott. Over the years, Ridley Scott has directed some of the most iconic films, a handful of which you would find included in the conversation of best films ever. He most certainly qualifies as a legend in filmmaking, but there is no doubt he must be one of the most wildly inconsistent of all the celebrated auteurs. From one film to the next, while certain elements of Scott’s films are reliable throughout, the films as a whole can vary from great to mediocre and, on occasion, just plain poor. Perhaps he has built up enough credit with his earlier works that this most recent missteps can be forgiven. But I would argue that Scott needs to rebound.
THE WOLF MAN – It was six years after Bride of Frankenstein before Universal created a new monster classic. They had been thriving in the silly sequels of their initial successful fright franchises, but in 1941 they finally opted to try a new story. The Wolf Man was the first original Universal Classic created completely out of thin air. Well, thin air and a little help from legend and lore. This was the one I watched the most, and while it remains my favorite in a very nostalgic sense it is clear the dip in quality from the Whale productions of the Frankenstein pictures and The Invisible Man. That being said, I don’t believe The Wolf Man or those involved ever set out to make a grandiose picture on the level of the Whale thrillers. This film and this character had a more everyman feel, something less celestial and more human at its core than the bloodthirsty undeads or the mad scientists of the past.